by Karen Cushman

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Review

Alchemy and Meggy Swann is set in Elizabethan London, 1573, when many of the superstitions of the Medieval era were just starting to give way to the seeds of Empiricism; when the printing press was revolutionizing the ways people thought, read, and communicated; and when the theater was about to become a Very Big Deal.

The character of Meggy Swann perfectly embodies the contradictions of her era: constantly accused of being "marked by the Devil himself" because of her painfully twisted legs which force her to use walking sticks simply to "wabble" across a room, let alone across the city, Meggy is skeptical of the magic and superstition which surrounds her even as she wishes it were real so she could use it to fix her legs and be able to dance.

While Cushman does employ some quirks of grammar and vocabulary which sound archaic and possibly a little difficult to those unaccustomed to Elizabethan speech, Meggy is in no way like reading Shakespeare (though curses like, "Gleeking swag-bellied maggot" and "Knotty-pated whey face" are certainly an introduction to it). As she does in all her books, Cushman has included a short history of the period in which Meggy​ is set, as well as a list of resources about it in other books and online. If you or your child are at any time confused by something historically unfamiliar, the author's note in the back is a good place to look for more information (and if you happen to read it first, don't worry, it won't spoil any of the plot).

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